Smarter Planning in the Time of COVID: From Work to Weddings

Wedding planning is notorious for its complexity. My new husband and I, like quite a number of other couples, had to add in the reality of COVID and somehow organize a personal life event that celebrates our relationship in a realistic, responsible, and fun way. Originally, we had an Indian fusion wedding scheduled for March 20 & 21, 2020 in Virginia, USA. For some context, that’s a few days after the world around us started realizing and preparing for the impending global pandemic. I already felt as though I had an advantage to wedding planning by being an experienced project manager and my proclivity to hosting parties, but lucky us — my career had inadvertently given us another leg up on how to plan our big day.

My day job at Red Hat gets me facilitating conversations using open practices (from the Open Practice Library) and working with clients that are making large company transformations through small, day-to-day decisions. Being a part of various customers’ agile journeys shows me ways teams are able to prioritize enough to deliver what stakeholders desire and pivot to meet constraints. In a uniquely similar way, our wedding planning adventure had to be agile enough to handle whatever was thrown our direction and keep the eye on what the most valuable pieces were. Our main highlights of what worked for us were starting with exploring our priorities and when we needed to pivot, remapping our plans.

Started by exploring our priorities using Priority Sliders

It started as something from my work life that I thought would be cool to share with my family. So many times in organizations I see how open conversations help build alignment and clarity around a vision. From the get-go, I decided I wanted to apply some of those same practices I use with teams to guide the planning of our wedding. My then-fiancé initially pushed back at the excessive use of sticky notes; though, in true Red Hat spirit, he shared his opinion with a grumble, then trusted my experience enough to go with the flow and proceeded to solidly participate.

On a mission to rank the various factors of wedding planning, and most importantly, to open a dialogue about what our families thought was valuable and why, I ran a personal Priority Sliders session with everyone. This gave us the context of what was important to whom so that down the road, when we inevitably had to make decisions on the details, they would be well-informed and intentional. At the time I didn’t realize how much this would pay off, but what turned into a COVID-ridden era made this a game-changer.

Output of priority sliders activity, conducted with family

Since March 2020, there have been constant changes to CDC guidelines, government policies, social norms and expectations, among everything else that comes with a nation trying to respond to a global pandemic. All of these occurring in the midst of us trying to nail down wedding plans meant that we had to get creative with how we organized the events and be okay if things did not follow whatever the newest plan was exactly.

Originally, we had fully planned for a semi-traditional Indian wedding spanning several days and multiple events with more than 200 guests in late March 2020. Everything was lined up — vendors booked, payments delivered, plans thoroughly reviewed, dances practiced; and then, three days before I would have gotten my bridal mehndi done, the state was shut down and events were restricted to under 25 people. At this point, waves of guests had changed their RSVPs, and Kurt and I had to make a call on what to do. So, I took the chance to practice what I preach, and we took an iterative approach to getting married.

Remapping our plans to pivot using Value Slicing

When you describe Agile, it’s easy for some to feel that implies planning is futile since you inevitably know the plan is going to change, and we felt that inevitability during our own planning. But realistically, what Agile encourages is strategic planning — an approach that lets you plan enough to know what you need to do right now while keeping enough options open to accommodate changes that the future will bring.

When we took a step back to realize what was most important to both of us, it was our opportunity to refocus and to be strategic. We knew that #1 we did not want to postpone getting married, even if that meant it would be a very small group, and #2 we wanted to be able to share it with our friends and families that couldn’t be there somehow. All of the other details that we had planned would have to be flexible and wait for a safer day. Knowing how complicated talking about this could get, I had the perfect practice that would help us visualize an approach that would reflect both our priorities — Value Slicing.

Value Slicing is a practice that helps you take the small, known tasks and understand how they build up into groups of work that deliver value in iterations. At this point in planning, the future was pretty unknown, but we knew that we didn’t want to wait until everyone could join to get married at all. So we put together all of our pieces that we had organized and rearranged them in a way that resonated with us. Some things needed to happen right away, others we pushed, and some didn’t make the cut. Our Value Slicing activity helped us find a solution that worked within our constraints and set up enough of a plan for the rest.

Output of Value Slicing activity

Our newest plan and first slice was a small Hindu wedding ceremony hosted in our home with ~20 family & friends. All local and no plane travel, which really limited who was able to attend in person. Luckily we were able to set up a livestream on YouTube for family across the States and abroad. The ceremony was much more intimate than we ever planned and manifested in the most beautiful ways: by giving us the opportunity to spend more time with the few folks that attended, by freeing us to savor the ceremony for what it meant for our relationship as opposed to probably a lot of micromanaging and fussing, by experiencing such a huge life milestone in our own living room, and by leveraging technology to give everyone, even those that wouldn’t have been able to attend, a front-row seat to our ceremony (and the option to do so while wearing pajamas).

At-Home Indian Wedding Ceremony, March 2020

Almost two years and three “new dates” later, we finally hosted an in-person reception at our intended venue with the one hundred guests that were able to make it. It ended up looking quite different than originally planned in March 2020, but heavily inspired by two wedding events mashed into one: all the dances and party vibes of a sangeet (a traditional Indian pre-wedding event where family and friends can meet and greet in a casual, fun setting) and a wedding reception (the fancier event with a more evening vibe). This way we got to reuse a lot of our original plans, while modifying it to suit the merged layout. Of course, we opted to roll in a few more precautions this time around, like a wider spread table layout and masks as favors for guests.

Wedding Reception at Westfields Marriott, September 2021

Given the COVID situation at the time, understandably not all guests were comfortable in a large group so now we get the added bonus of smaller friend circles coming together to share celebrating our relationship and marriage milestones with them. We don’t have a concrete idea of what those may look like, but maybe some of the ideas that didn’t make the cut earlier could make a reappearance. Sometimes, this is where we end up: with a future ahead of us that we know just-enough about and with a well-stocked repertoire of tools & techniques to help us figure out the rest.

Hopefully our experience of how we applied these practices to plan our wedding adventure inspires folks to browse the Open Practice Library and find a practice that could help you, even if it takes a creative leap to get there. By tying together practices like Priority Sliders and Value Slicing, we were able to start off by understanding what was most important to us, use that as a guiding force to help make decisions along the way, and strategically approach it to lead us through the most wonderful wedding adventure. These same techniques can help teams align on their outcomes and priorities, and then, use those to organize their work into an approach that delivers value incrementally. The practices foster ownership within the teams through building alignment and strategy with business context, and this golden combination enables teams to create their most wonderful adventure.

agile aficionado. collaborator by nature. ex-coder with a management problem.